ping: walking in memphis

Walking in Memphis.
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale.
I'm afraid to listen to this fab Marc Cohn song again right now (though you really should, and can listen here) because I've just got rid of the earworm after a week. It played in my head the whole time I was, um, walking in Memphis.
  It was both fun and challenging acting as Ping's personal photographer, chauffeur and tour guide to America.  
 The romance of the road and the railroad, the highways and the riverways, hits me deep in the gut. I heart Americana. The open fields and amazing skies, the crops and canals and abandoned farms make my heart sing.
    It doesn't sing to Ping. She got excited when she recognized a familiar brand name—Hampton Inns or CVS—something to cling to in this vast, unfamiliar landscape.

She is my dear friend of 50 years, my only older sister and sometimes my personal chef. To clarify, she is not my lover, as one of my oldest friends suspected.
   I love her dearly, nonetheless. When she decided to come with me on my annual peregrination, she said she wanted to see Graceland, she wanted find out  what a road trip was like, and she wanted to spend time with me. We did these things, and it was great.
   I will wrap it up next week. Have been busy with an assignment this week. Anon.


meanwhile in block island

Before and after powerwashing
Since I left BI precipitously to fit Ping's vacation schedule, many things were left undone in Block Island. Like porch railings. Always.
   Every year Erin and Hannah paint railings, and every year I bless them. I just make a mess of it.
    This year, in a new improvement, Chris powerwashed the porches before painting.
   Please note his outfit. Ahem. Note that he is my son-in-law, not a blood relation.
  So now Hannah and Chris are snazzing up Hannah's, while Erin is snazzing up Claudia's.
  How lucky am I?

That's what I'm talking about!



ping dines out

Ping's passion is food—planning it, cooking it, eating it, even photographing it. I had no idea that she needed to eat three squares a day plus snacks to avoid passing out from low blood sugar, so we did a lot more eating than I typically do. I am more of a yogurt/soup/snacks/beer person. (As most of you know.) (Oh yeah, and bananas.) All she wanted to do in Memphis was sample barbecue. But first, we had to see the famous Peabody Hotel duck march. She sipped lemonade, and I a martini, at the lobby bar while the Duckmaster led the ducks to the fountain, and then back up the elevator to the roof. Dunno how they are so obedient. 

 Next stop, across the street from the Peabody Hotel, was the Flying Fish, which came recommended by gourmet David. It was downscale from the Peabody, but the food was excellent. Ping approved her grilled trout and fries (the first she had eaten in years), enjoyed trying my hush puppies and fried okra. The fried catfish was the best ever, succulent and crisp.
  At the Flying Fish, Ping spotted a handsome policeman. "Can I take a picture?" I asked him, and he agreeably posed. He is now my newest Facebook friend, but I can't reveal his name on account of the criminals. He fears for his family. I was tiring of the order-and-pay-at-the-counter-and-then-sit-and-have-your-food-delivered motif, but that seemed to be the way of the bbq.
 Payne's is considered one of the best bbq restaurants in the nation. So Ping and I headed to the outskirts of Memphis to the old gas station it has called home for almost half a century. Their signature sandwich is chopped pork with a mustardy slaw. There were people in there from as far away as Kansas City (they are bbq aficionados there too). Ping opted for the ribs, while I got the sandwich. She pronounced them good, but I could see that she was a bit concerned about the sanitary conditions. (I had previously no idea she was such a clean freak. I mean, I knew she took a shower every night, always has, but no notion  she was quite so OCD.) Me, as a gas station dweller myself, I was so enchanted with the decor I could hardly eat.
For dinner we patronized another known joint, Central BBQ. It was more upscale, being at the edge of the hipster Cooper-Young neighborhood. Though you still had to stand at a counter to order. The ribs were good there too, Ping said. I can't even remember what I ate, I was so sick of pork. I may not eat for a month.


ping does graceland

 We  made it! After all the tsouris, we arrived at the home of Elvis Presley, aka the King. Ping idolized him when she was young, collecting pictures and magazines. "He was so handsome," she sighs.
  After Hounddog when I was about eight, I wasn't really aware of the singer until the Las Vegas Elvis appeared in glittering full-throttle Liberace, so the romance eluded me. I had been to Graceland before and needed no refresher course on his execrable taste.
  But Ping's enthusiasm carried me through the three hours of touring with all-white and mostly overweight fans guided by an all-black Graceland staff.
  Ping and I were 27 and 28 when Elvis died of a heart attack brought on by barbituate addiction while on the toilet. As far as I know this was was not mentioned on the iPad tour (available in many languages including Chinese), but I wouldn't know because I never donned my headphones.
   Changping avoided his grave—bad luck, as she explained. As we finished touring his airplanes and headed to the gigantic parking lot, crammed with cars and buses, she sighed. "Elvis, my lover. I still miss you." And she added, "I hope I dream lof him tonight."


ping on beale

 Memphis is getting to me. I feel emotional in this town where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, when I see black people and white people playing music together, working behind the bar together, dancing together and walking down Beale Street with their families, united in tourism and in their common love of music. When one band covered Prince's Purple Rain, my tears rained.
   Ping has felt Other, as an Asian in this country, for twenty years. I felt Other in her country all those years ago. But I have no notion of what it is to feel Other in your own country. Here in Memphis the worlds seem to draw closer than they do in the Northeast. Everybody loves the blues and barbeque.
W.C. Handy park


ping goes to memphis

Ping poses at Mammoth Springs, Arkansas.
 Mammoth Springs, Ark., about a half hour from the Goose, pumps out 9 million gallons of water a minute. The Ozarks have a wealth of water, but the people are poor. As we headed to Memphis we passed town after town with opened churches and shuttered businesses—including, alas, the cowboy boot store where I have bought my boots for years. Mind you, I can't wear them any more, so it's a nostalgic rather than practical loss.
  "I feel so lucky," Ping said, as we passed the falling down houses and dirt-yard trailers. "I have what I need. I have enough money. I can travel and do what I want. These people are so poor."
   I feel lucky too.
Settled in Memphis at the Marriott, a cut above my previous choice.

ping is entertained

 I wanted Ping to meet my friends so that she would understand why I like it here in the godforsaken Ozarks. We went out for pizza and beer with Bill at a new brewery.
 David, a notable chef and oenophile, wined and dined us at his house.

We reciprocated  with a pick-pick lunch at the Goose. Ping made a beautiful asparagus and cucumbers with ham. We also had roast chicken and quinoi and a strawberry cobbler made by an Amish woman.
 We gathered at the table Frank and Dianne gave me (they also gifted the plates) after the flood left me without. David, needless to say, brought a cooler of delicious wine, Bill brought a cooler of beer. We all travel with coolers here, given the lengths of drives and the temps near 100 degrees.
Ping sports the cowboy hat gifted by Frank.
And then all bade Ping adieu. Today we head for Memphis. And Graceland.


ping makes hay

"I don't understand. What is hay?" Grass that is cut and dried a bit, I explained.
 "But what do they use for?"
"For food. For the cows and horses."
"Oh, I see. During the wintertime."
We saw Dianne's handiwork—hay cut, raked, baled and stored under cover.
 Ping was fascinated.

 Frank took Ping out into a field to visit a few mares and their foals. She fed them Range Cubes from the mule and somehow avoided getting chiggers.
 Then we headed to barn, where Dianne instructed her in the fine art of forking up hay to feed the stabled animals, like the stallion and those horses to be trained.
And as the sun came down on the farm, Ping had the best experience—bottle-feeding a calf whose mother has no milk. She loved it. Though she  said, "Before I feed the baby cow, she follow me everywhere. When milk all gone, she run away."
   It was a delightful day for her.
   Nonetheless, she says, "I never visit the countryside any more. Let my friend come to Boston, okay."


the trials of ping

Ping engages in her first home improvement project.

They definitely looked like flea bites. She had them all over. We blamed them on the awful motel. But they kept coming. We threw out the pillow she had taken into the motel. We worried about the luggage. And still she kept getting bitten. The itching drove her into a frenzy. I didn't have a single bite.
  She managed to get some stubborn screws into the Ikea sofa, which was one of the items we had managed to wrestle off the truck in the rain (Did it have fleas?) and was flushed with success.
  I had gone to bed when she screamed. "Taoling! Taoling!"
  There were fleas swarming all over the bathroom floor.
   I did not want to open the hatch of the hot water heater to find the animal I was sure had died in there. Nor did I want Ping to see me find it or e ven know that I suspected its presence. Fortunately. I had some bug spray.
  Changping got on the phone to her son, to see if he could change her ticket home to soonest. It was prohibitively expensive. She was in despair. She lay on the sofa she had helped assemble and talked to her friends and listened to videos in Chinese. And scratched her legs, her arms, her neck.


roadtrip with ping: disaster area

There is no way you can really warn someone how it feels to land in a destroyed and desolate town. It wasn't much to begin with—maybe 50 people and a cafe—and now it is a disaster. That's the ruined cafe across from the Goose. Maybe five people live in town. Well, now six, with me here.
  Ping was in shock. Culture shock and just plain shock. Terrified by the street dog, worried about crime, afraid of the strange people. And inside my place was worse.
  From a beautiful oasis, the Goose had been wiped out by seven feet of water. Last summer I hastily replumbed and electrified, put in a kitchen and bathroom and had to leave. Almost a year later, I couldn't really remember what had been done and not done. I did know I had asked the phone company to hook me up the month before.
   But of course the phone didn't work. DSL seemed to be on, but I couldn't remember my password, so Ping couldn't get on line. The place was supposed to have been cleaned, but it was still pretty dirty. I hadn't realized Ping was a bit OCD about cleanliness.  Aaand, the AC wasn't working. Ping was very unhappy. And that was before the flea bites.


roadtrip with ping: the end is nigh

Across the mighty river
 To cross the Mississippi River heading west—at whatever point—is always exciting for me. Changping had never heard of the Mississippi river. I tried to explain that it was one of the world's mightiest rivers, but I couldn't even begin to describe what it means culturally. I gave up.
    On this bridge, halfway across you enter the state of Missouri, which means I'm about three hours from home. This area is called the Bootheel. It floods. There are cotton fields. It is closer to the South in character than the rest of Missouri, which itself has a split personality—Midwestern, Western, Northern, Southern. Its borders eight states, the most in the US: Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. The Ozarks, my area, is hillbilly central. I spent my formative years in the Ozarks, in Arkansas, and the rolling hills feel like home.
Storm forming over the Walmart parking lot in Dexter, Mo.

When I hit Missouri, I hit Walmart. The chain began in Bentonville, Ark., not all that far away, and dots the state of Missouri. However, there are few such emporia on my route, and I need to buy drinking water, milk and other necessities to get me through the night at my place, which is half an hour from the nearest store or gas station.
   I should have taken that storm as an omen.


roadtrip with ping: romance

Ping at the second Arby's.
The reason Ping was so excited (or, as she would say, "so exciting") to see Arby's was that the chain apparently doesn't exist in the Boston area, where she lives. She hadn't seen it since she was first married and living in Miami.
   The first road trip—and last til now—she ever took was from Miami to Boston, where her new husband was moving to take a job at Wang (remember Wang computers?).
  "That's about the same distance as we are driving," I said.
   "We stayed in motel two nights," she said.
   "We could do that too, but what. would you do hanging around in a motel room for hours," I said.
   "Make love."

  In the event, we stayed in a flea-bag motel somewhere outside of Dayton. I should probably mention the name just so you never make the mistake of staying there. But you wouldn't make this mistake. My problem is I like to be able to see my truck from my room.
   I knew it was a mistake when I saw the two construction workers having a tailgate Bud Lite party in the parking lot next to me. But I had paid, so. . . The light fixtures were dangling by wires off the hall walls, the carpets were tatty, the sheets dirty. But oh well, it was just for a night. The partyers went to bed early. We did not sleep well. Ping dreamed about her ex-husband, not happily.


roadtrip with ping: the beginning

Pumping gas across from a Fireworks! store.
As we rolled down the road, we rolled back the years to when we were 20. I was studying in Taiwan and living with Ping's family. We recalled the open sewers, the lack of AC, the refrigerator in the living room, the kitchen in the alley, the family dogs. I was a hippie who only wanted brown rice. They said brown rice was for dogs, not people.
    Now Ping only eats brown rice.
Getting the hang of life on the road: don't change clothes, but keep the windshield clean.
We moved up in time, through marriages and kids and divorces and deaths. She knew my parents; I knew hers. She moved to the US and back to Taiwan. And back to the US. We didn't see one another often enough, but were always in touch. We felt welcome at each other's houses. My kid learned some Chinese words. Hers became fluent in English. I helped out when I could—not enough—and she tried to mold my appearance—but not too hard.

I don't want to go to Graceland. But if Ping wants to go to Graceland, I'm so there.

roadtrip with ping: the storm

Ping was playing mahjong on her iPad. Having eaten her second Arby's sandwich (this time bbq), she was replete. We pulled into Walmart to pick up a few items (mostly water, which is undrinkable at the Goose) when a cloudburst rolled in. So much for Nano's careful planning! The rain poured. The cardboard slumped, and the whatever-it-is piece of furniture shifted, and low and behold, I could not see out the rear view mirror.


roadtrip with ping 2

 Thank fortune(or excellent planning) California surfer Nano was in New York to help us load and secure the sofa and our bitsand bobs. And then, at the last minute, the building guys at 98 Riverside showed me a piece of furniture they had been saving for me that I just couldn't pass up, despite the fact that it will likely barely fit in the Goose. So we had a load and a half when we pulled out of Nazareth at 10:13 ayem, only an  hour later than I had planned.
 We blasted through New Jersey and were almost to Harrisburg, Pa.,when Ping decided she needed more sustenance than the edamame, carrots, cucumbers, pomegranate, blueberriers and bread she had already eaten, whereupon she saw an Arby's sign (did you realize that meant "RB," for roast beef?) and we screeched to a halt. Me more than her, because as I stepped back to get this picture, I tripped over a curb and fell on my ass.
We wound up in some town between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, at Rudy's bbq. The pulled pork and ribs were delicious, the veg inedible. And then to bed.


roadtrip with ping

And here we are somewhere between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio as night falls on the bbq joint.

adventures with ping 4

 The soda stream is ready to go, and so are we. Ping has never been on a roadtrip before, or even a long drive (though many a long flight). She wants to know what it's like. Well, she's about to find out, about 1200 miles worth. Last night Ping prepared a light meal of several dishes (mango and broccoli, green bean salad, eggs with cucumber, smoked fish), which we shared with Nano, a visitor from California. He says he will help us load the truck. In a bout an hour. And away!


adventures with ping 3

Before hitting the road, I have too much unpacking and packing to do. And people to see. And olive oil and coffee to buy. So Ping and I toured the nabe, with local guide Debby, who also took this pic. We bought carrots with the tops still on at Fairway, a baguette at Maison Kaiser, and ate smoked salmon from Zabar's. Ping was delighted to find a Chinese newspaper at a newsstand on Broadway, in which she read about Anthony Bourdain whilst I repacked. Then she started practicing for the country in a camo miniskirt. She said she was dancing for Graceland.
In the big city, Ping practices country style.


adventures with ping 2

I took the ferry off Block Island yesterday (the astute natives among you will realize that this picture is actually of the ferry leaving Pt. Judith) to meet Ping on the dock. Her son drove her down from Boston, and we met at the fish market.
   We popped her wheeliebag in the truck along with a rusty-legged Eames chair, a large pottery thing I hauled up from Mexico and other odds and ends—mainly odds. I can't remember what I have at the Goose in Missouri since the reconstruction after the flood last year, so I just threw everything in the truck. We headed for New York City through the weekenders' traffic jams of Connecticut. It took hours, but thanks to the departing hoards, we did find a parking space.
Ping and I meet at the dock in Point Judith, Galilee, Rhode Island.


adventures with ping

We're going on a road trip, me and Ping. We got to know each other almost 50 years ago, when I was studying in Taiwan and living with her family. She got married and moved to the US, we both had kids and grandkids, and now here we are, about to spend more time together than we have since all those years ago.
  City girl Ping is coming with me to the Ozarks. She is not going to believe my construction site home in a flooded and destroyed town. Aand, she wants to eat bbq in Memphis and go to Graceland. So we're going to Graceland.